California prepares for life without running back Tre Watson
BERKELEY, Calif. (AP) California's Patrick Laird had already considered 2017 a success after the former walk-on running back was awarded a scholarship in the offseason.
With Tre Watson out for the season with a right leg injury, Laird's season is taking on even more significance.
Laird, a redshirt junior, is expected to shoulder the bulk of the workload in the Golden Bears' backfield after he came off the bench last week and rushed for 191 yards and three touchdowns. He'll make his first college start Saturday when Cal hosts Mississippi at Memorial Stadium.
''He has the respect of everybody in our program, just by the way he works, the way he trains, the way he treats people, just overall who he is,'' Cal coach Justin Wilcox said. ''It's really neat to see a guy like that be rewarded. We expected him to do some really good things. He's done it in practice so it's not surprising.''
Before his big game against Weber State, Laird had spent the past three years as a backup running back in an offense that was focused almost entirely around the passing game. He had not carried more than four times in a game before last week.
The Bears are trying to be more balanced under Wilcox, a challenge that might have been more daunting after Watson got hurt were it not for Laird.
''It's gratifying,'' Laird said. ''It's nice that the hard work has paid off. Everyone knows football is kind of a next-guy-up type of thing. Tre has been super positive. I know he's going to bounce back.''
The 6-foot, 205-pound running back took a few plays to get going against Weber State - he was dropped for a one-yard loss on his first carry - but was tough to catch after that. Laird scored on a 51-yard run in the second quarter and then got into the end zone twice more in the second half, including a clinching 73-yard run in the fourth quarter.
''He's got great balance and vision,'' Wilcox said. ''The hole's not quite developed, but he's hitting it full speed knowing it's going to develop and trusting it. You saw it on a couple of the big runs. Those little things add up.''
Here are a few other things to look for when California hosts Mississippi on Saturday night:
LUKE RETURNS: Interim coach Matt Luke will be on the Ole Miss sidelines after missing a day of practice while attending a hearing by the NCAA's Committee of Infractions. The Rebels are accused of 21 recruiting violations, and Luke is hopeful his time away from the team won't be a distraction. ''This is a big game for us, going on the road for the first time,'' Luke said. ''They have some guys that can mismatch you at receiver and they've got some guys that can run by you. Just from a talent standpoint, this will be the most talented team we've played.''
SECONDARY CONCERNS: The Bears have had some issues in pass coverage and allowed eight passing plays that went for 20 yards or more against Weber State. That could be trouble against an Ole Miss team that leads the nation in passing. Shea Patterson threw for five touchdowns and set a school record with 489 passing yards against Tennessee-Martin.
FINDING A HAPPY MEDIUM: Cal quarterback Ross Bowers has had mixed results through the first two games. A week after passing for 363 yards and four touchdowns against North Carolina, Bowers threw for only 200 yards and was held out of the end zone against Weber State. On the flip side, the Bears QB completed 71.4 percent of his throws without an interception in Cal's second game after getting picked twice in the opener.
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